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A grain of truth
2022-06-06 09:55:55

Children learn to plant rice seedlings in a paddy field in Bijie, Guizhou province, on May 29.[Photo provided to China Daily]

One solar term gives way to another as summer takes hold, Chen Nan reports.

After xiao man, or "grain buds", it's time for mang zhong, or "grain in ear", a Chinese solar term for summer. This year, mang zhong starts on June 6. According to this solar term, most of China will see the hot days of summer but the areas around the Yangtze River experience rain.

Mang refers to the awn, or the thistle, on the seeds of grain plants and zhong refers to harvesting and sowing, which happens at the same time. The beginning of mang zhong means the grains are mature and waiting to be harvested, so like other solar terms, it also reflects agricultural phenology.

In Chinese, mang has the same pronunciation as another mang, which means "busy". Mang zhong is also translated by Chinese farmers as "busy farming".

Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Bai Juyi portrayed the busy scene of people working on farmlands during the period in his poem, titled Guan Yimai (Watching the Wheat Harvest): "Farm families have few leisurely months. In the fifth lunar month, they are twice as busy. The southern breeze arises in the evenings. Covered fields of wheat now turn yellow …Married women and unmarried girls carry round bamboo containers on poles full of food. Children follow with pots of gruel and water. Following each other into the fields to serve food and drink for the strong men in the southern fields."

A farmer gets rice seedlings ready for planting after harvesting wheat in Huzhou, Zhejiang province.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Besides showcasing the busy scene on the farmlands, the poet praised the hardworking spirit of farmers, reminding people to cherish their hard labor and expressed his empathy.

With differences in geography and climate, the agricultural crops also vary in northern and southern China.

Bai's poem reflects the lives of people in northern China, who race against time to harvest wheat. However, it's different for people living in southern China, who work around the clock to plant rice.

Lu You, a poet during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), wrote a poem, titled Shi Yu (Timely Rain), to portray the lives of people living in southern China during mang zhong, which goes: "The rain comes in time during the 'grain in the ear' and rice plants are ready to be transplanted on the farmlands. The new rice in every family is delicious and the singing of local folk song is melodious."

Since rainfall increases during the period, compared to the previous eight solar terms, it is good for growing rice in the Yangtze region. It's also called "plum rains" season, referring to the long period of continuous rainy or cloudy weather. This is also a time when plums ripen. The period is good for growing rice, vegetables and fruits.

A farmer harvests wheat in Miaoguanzhuang village in Linyi, Shandong province on June 1.[Photo provided to China Daily]

There are traditions around mang zhong, which are followed even today. For example, an miao, or "seedling protection", is a traditional farming activity in eastern Anhui province that has been practiced since the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Every year when the period arrives, people hold the sacrificial ceremony to pray for good harvests in the fall. People make different types of bread from wheat flour and color them with vegetable juice. The bread is used as a sacrificial offering to pray for a good harvest and people's safety.

Every year, a festival is held in Jixi county, Anhui province, to celebrate the summer event.

"It is usually held after the rice-planting period is over. People make steamed buns in different shapes and color them with vegetable juice. They offer the colored buns to the god of harvest as a sacrifice for a good harvest and the safety of the villages," Ke Zuiyan, a villager in Shangzhuang, Jixi county, told Beijing News during the festival in 2020.

A visitor buys newly picked apricots in Zhanggao village in Zouping, Shandong province.[Photo provided to China Daily]

The report also depicted scenes from the festival, where hundreds of locals walked around the farmlands with the leader playing a gong and drum.

In ancient China, a celebration to bid farewell to the flower gods was also an important custom during this period. It's contrary to the welcoming ceremony of the flower gods, which was marked on the second day of the second lunar month, when spring begins. During mang zhong, people held sacrificial ceremonies to bid farewell to the flower gods, showing their gratitude and expressing wishes to welcome the flower gods next year.

Other activities held during mang zhong earlier included mud wrestling and boiling plums, which are still popular today.

Youngsters of the ethnic Dong community in southwestern Guizhou province hold such wrestling matches during the period, according to China Folklore Network, a nonprofit founded in 1983.

Tourists catch fish in a pond during a fruit-picking and rice-planting festival in Huai'an, Jiangsu province, on May 28.[Photo provided to China Daily]

On this day, newlyweds, accompanied by their good friends, plant rice together. While planting, they throw mud at each other. At the end of this activity, whoever has the most mud on them proves to be the most popular person.

In southern China, May and June are the months when plums become ripe. Green plums contain a variety of natural and high-quality organic acids and are rich in minerals. They can help clean blood, lower blood lipids, and reduce tiredness. For drink lovers, it is also a good season to make plum wine. However, fresh plums are acerbic and need to be boiled before serving.

According to Guo Wenbin, an award-winning author and scholar of traditional culture, the weather is hot during mang zhong, therefore, eating vegetables and fruit and drinking plenty of water every day are recommended. Tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, celery, asparagus, water melons and strawberries are good at cooling down the body in summer. Eating something bitter, such as bitter gourd and lotus seeds, which are rich in antioxidants, is also recommended.

Guo writes in his novel, The Lunar Calendar, that people should avoid spicy and strongly flavored food during the period, which is the healthcare advice from Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon, an ancient Chinese book.

With the temperature rising, it's also a season to adjust habits and to nourish the heart.

"We call mang zhong the busiest time of the year to farm, however, it also reminds us to slow down and gain inner peace. Our energy is abundant in summer but we should learn how to use it to benefit the body and heart," says Guo.

He also notes that after this period, summer solstice will arrive.

"In ancient China, people marked summer solstice with celebrations. Mang zhong is the prelude to that," says Guo.

Source:China Daily 

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